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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canadians Raid U.S. Ship to Free Hostages




MONTREAL -- Ending a naval wrangle that highlighted the logistical weakness of the Canadian military, Canadian troops swung down from a helicopter Thursday to board a U.S. merchant ship that for almost three weeks had held three Canadian soldiers and 10 percent of Canada's armored power hostage on the high seas over nonpayment of a shipping bill.


Without any sea-lift capacity of its own, Canada moves its personnel and materiel either by private freighter or by arranging rides to wars and peacekeeping assignments aboard the ships of other NATO countries. On Thursday afternoon, with the money owed by a Montreal shipping company still unpaid, Canada's defense minister, Art Eggleton, ordered soldiers from a Canadian naval vessel, the Athabaskan, to board the merchant ship, the Katie, which had been anchored in international waters off the coast of Newfoundland.


The boarding of the ship, which flies the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, took place without injuries, although Reuters reported the Ukrainian captain, Vitaly Khlebnikov, "engaged the ship in violent maneuvers" as a Canadian Sea King helicopter lowered the soldiers by cable. After the boarding, the freighter resumed course to its original destination, Becancour, a port downriver on the St. Lawrence.


For Canadians, the spectacle of $150 million worth of tanks and munitions held hostage over a $100,000 bill was either a joke or a sad commentary on how Ottawa has starved successive military budgets. The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto editorialized Thursday about the "comic opera."


Returning from a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, the cargo included 580 tanks, armored personnel carriers and reconnaissance vehicles as well as 390 sea containers loaded with 500 tons of weapons, ammunition and electronic warfare gear.


Under international maritime law, a boarding may occur if permission is granted by the captain, the owner or the country of registry. St. Vincent and the Grenadines told Canada that it did not object to the boarding.


"We still regard it as a commercial dispute," Mary Ellen Gilroy, public affairs officer for the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, said Thursday evening. "We hope the commercial dispute will be resolved satisfactorily."